IF "paranormal" was observed, would it be parnormal?

Ok, so the wart charmer thread was just a bit goofy, but I do have a related question. (No Randi references please, this is a different subject. That one was already well beaten to the ground.)

What if there were indeed individuals who could manipulate a particular force of the universe in ways that most others did not understand to accomplish things that others could not accomplish. Some one who could harness a force such that they could say some words and kill some one or something else from Potterverse or otherwise often thought of as “magic” or “paranormal” … would it be “magic” or just another force of the natural world that needed to be understood?

Sort of the converse of Pratchett’s claim in the Tiffany Aching series that just because we understand how it works doesn’t make it any less magic … just because we don’t understand it doesn’t make it any more magic. I mean if I came to upon a group of people in ancient times with today’s technology they would have no capacity to understand how it worked. I could say that it is science but that would be a synonym to magic to them.

The basic concept: if something exists in this universe then isn’t it is a natural phenomena even if it is beyond our understanding? What defines something as supernatural? (Other than positing a mechanism without evidence?)

What is paranormal?

Thanks for the link.

Yes, some of that discussion gets at it. Even the definition as outside the known laws of physics is a sticky wicket. Lots of what has been observed has been outside the then known laws of physics … that’s why new models get created. The most exciting things for physicists to observe are those things that are outside the current known laws of physics! Observing those things do not count as “paranormal” they count for the need to develop better models of the natural world that are consistent with those observations.

I think the problem is just how far outside known science the phenomena is. Does it appear to violate just about anything and everything known or is it just a slight stretch from solid science? And does it extend our knowledge or does it require a massive change in accumulated knowledge? Does it explain the unknown or create more unknowns? Examples: Newton vs. Einstein, techtonic plate movement, heavier-than-air flight.

One definition of magic that I’ve heard, is that magic is the belief that the universe can be persuaded or commanded. That symbolism and words or sheer will affect the nonhuman universe like they do people; a Beware of Dog sign might keep people off your lawn, but not rain or rabbits. Magic is believing that muttering a charm, making a gesture, drawing a symbol, putting together the right symbolic elements, or concentrating real hard will affect the world.

By that definition of magic, yes, you could have proven, working magic that still deserves the name “magic”.

Suppose someone demonstrated that they could always make a pair of dice roll sevens, and scientists set out to investigate the phenonenon. They carefully measure the dice in midflight with lasers or some such to see if some force is changing the motion of the dice. They discover that no detectable force is moving the dice; under conditions where the dice are so sensitive to microscopic factors that their movement is effectively random, they simply always happen to come up sevens. In other words, the roller has infallible “luck”. That would be to all human purposes paranormal.

I think it would depend on the nature of the “paranormal” force in question. Most systems of magic (and religion) depend on the assumption that the forces of nature, or some of them, are anthropomorphic, with minds and wills, and that the wizard (or priest) can communicate with them, bargain with them, pray to them, somehow deal with them as a human might deal with an earthly prince. Science has never yet found any reason to doubt that, in fact, no forces in the universe except for material living things have minds or wills in any sense. If it were proven that were not true, we would have to rethink some basic assumptions about the scientific world-view. Natural science would not have to be rejected, of course, merely modified to incorporate some concepts now limited to psychology, anthropology, and the social sciences. But a mere demonstration of telepathic or telekinetic ability by humans would not require that; it would merely require physics to take account of a hitherto unknown set of forces and processes.

Of the three things in the link considered to be paranormal, only polio really counts, given that it, and other diseases, were considered to be caused by paranormal entities. If telepathy, say, was found to be governed by laws, new laws, then it might become natural. If on the other hand no information transmission mechanism was found, or if it were found to transmit information faster than light (like in Heinlein’s Time for the Stars) then it might still be considered to be paranormal. It would be studied, and rules for it found, but it would be orthogonal to science.

So the answer to the good OP is that it depends, based on the thing observed.

I would like to interject a note of caution to your otherwise good statement. The effect measured needs to be sufficiently large that chance variations and possibly difficult-to-quantize minute influences can be definitively ruled out or be of no consequence.

As an example of where this was NOT applied, see the PEAR studies at Princeton. The researchers claimed to have evidence of paranormal activities when subjects attempted to influence random computer events. Some of their results did, indeed, look non-random, but the effects were so tiny that they can not be considered statistically signficant. After 30 years (!), they gave up the project when the evidence did not get stronger over time and they couldn’t design a reproduceable experiment.

Here is the thing, are we speculating or are we providing evidence ?

Every shred of evidence, even as evidenced in the wart charmer thread, supports that regardless of definition of the word, everything that can be observed, everything that ever has been observed, regardless of a lack of explanation, is rejected as paranormal by science. That’s the catch: science. Ask a scientist or skeptic if any observed effect is explainable and the answer is yes. If one says no, just ask one more and so on until you get a speculation or written guess work. That seems to be the definition of explainable: the willingness to try and explain it. It is not that we have any evidence that every observation that can not be explained is ultimately explainable. It is not that we don’t have unexplained phenomenon that have remained unexplained despite great effort to do so, it is merely the fact that science will not accept that paranormal exist. If you have any evidence, offer it. If not, it’s just speculation.

Faith healing / suggestive healing: Unexplained. It has been observed in many forms. We try to explain it and the closest we can come is offering the explanation of the placebo effect, another unexplained phenomenon. This is the ultimate example. Because of our reluctance to accept anything that is unexplainable, we look at an event and by it’s very repeated occurance science accepts all kinds of theories about it as evidence that somehow it must be explainable although no one can actually do that. It just can’t be unexplainable can it ? it just can’t be paranormal can it ? It happens too often. But wait…who set the condition that frequency of occurance has anything to do with paranormal ? Oh yeah…that would be science. The very thing that paranormal flies in the face of.

It seems that science has a grudge against paranormal and rightfully so. The very nature of paranormal is “science can’t explain me” and the very nature of science is “explain what is observed”. The two are diametrically opposed. If you are looking for a skeptic or the scientific community to confirm paranormal, forget it. That is not the nature of science. Science sets the rules even when there are no rules of nature to be identified and nature isn’t talking. So science says “we suspect” or “it is believed”. In laymens terms that means “we can’t explain it.”

So the question is not really whether paranormal exist, the question is, would you admit it if you saw it ? Depends on who you are.

Science can’t figure out ball lightning. People who witnessed it were called liars and frauds. It has taken science a few hundred years to acknowledge it’s existence. Now that we have instruments for recording lighting strikes, science can’t run anymore and is stuck with holding a hot poatato. We can’t call you freaks and frauds anymore and holy shit we gotta refrain from calling this paranormal like we used to cause now we know it exist . Hmmm…somebody gives us a few pages of bullshit to present until we come up with something better.

The paranormal exist in my opinion. Not black magic or telepathy, but real occurances that science can not expalin. Science just won’t acknowledge that human understanding may, in fact, be limited. I got no problem accepting that we will never explain or understand some things.

Wrong. It has been explained, exposed and demonstrated as fraud or at best, wishful thinking. No properly documented case exists sufficient to prove faith healing works.

So if you can’t explain it, that means it is paranormal? Is that your definition?

Iknewit, What is the best example with the strongest proof of a “real occurance” that convinces you of the existance of the paranormal? Give us something we can sink our teeth into.

I don’t think faith healing is any manifestation of divinity, if that’s what you may think. What I know is that in cases where the only treatment has been faith healing and the afflicted is actually healed, the only explanations given are also unexplained:

" Its practitioners only cite anecdotal evidence of cases where it has been successful, ignoring the far more numerous cases where the patient dies despite the efforts of faith healing. Doctors often ascribe any success to the **placebo effect ** or to spontaneous remission:"

Here we have doctors attributing claims of faith healing to spontaneous remission. What is spontaneous remission ? Another term for faith healing. It’s a term used to say “we can’t explain”. So we explained the unexplained with the unexplained. The placebo effect is just as unexplainable. How do we define the placebo effect ?

“Placebo effect is the term applied by medical science to the therapeutical and healing effects of inert medicines and/or ritualistic or faith healing manipulations”

Absolutely terrific. Faith healing is explained away by applying another word to that is used to desribe faith healing. Again, explaining the unexplained with the unexplained is accepted by some as an explanation. Is it really an explanation ? No way, it’s a rationalization that helps people sleep at night lest there might be something unexplained to deal with.

Whatever name you wish to put on it, I don’t care, there is an effect out there where just as described, people spontaneously heal. Is it predictable or regular ? Nope. But it happens. Sometimes thing that should not heal, do.


Is that a real, credible doctor using the term “spontaneous healing” ?


Wow…another one.


Even in a dog ?




And paranormal does not rest on any explanation I can offer. It rest with science. Good lord…here we go again, the definition of “paranormal”.


From Encarta: impossible to explain scientifically: unable to be explained or understood in terms of scientific knowledge

From Oxford: • adjective supposedly beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.

From Webster: not scientifically explainable

From Cambridge: impossible to explain by known natural forces or by science

From American Heritage: Beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation

From Ultrlingua: Not in accordance with scientific laws

Now, go ahead everyone and instead of reading and comprehending, insert your own definition that says Paranormal = UFO. Notice the actual defintions don’t say UFO…please notice…look again now…no it doesn’t say telepathy either…oh dammit…fine …you get to define the word for yourself. That’s what it boils down to. Rejecting the meaning of a word.
As for something paranormal to sink your teeth into, (although I suspect your all bark and no actual bite) consider human consciousness or life on earth. Ask yourself, “self, what is the normal condtion of the known universe ?” Self replies "Why the normal condition of all 170 glalaxies, all charted planets and stars is exactly lifeless. That is exactly what we know…well except for us. Kinda like that one in a million disappearing tumor, we are at least one in a million and nobody can explain why. Another question to ask yourself: “Self, I don’t know of any other life in the universe but I think there must be, would they be paranormal ? If the UFOs did come, would they be paranormal ?” The answer is, of course, no. The most legendary of all paranormal events is actually not paranormal by the standards we apply to consciousness, the placebo effect, dark matter, the horizon problem, dark energy, etc. We already have a plausible explanation for other life. If they were to show up, as the very nature of the question asked in the OP, once they are confirmed to exist, they are already explained. Shit…The single most disputed claim of the paranormal is only paranormal until we see them and slice one open on the disection table…
Damn… I know…you still don’t get it. It’s just a matter of opinion and attitude. If you think somebody, somewhere can explain something, well fine, I can sleeo tonight. Jesus.

If paranormal phenomena could be reliably manifest, so as to be examined, measured, experimented upon, I think that would mark the transition of those phenomena into the ‘normal’ realm, but that doesn’t mean it wrong to consider them paranormal beforehand.

Wrong. Faith healing is the belief that one can heal either by having faith in a god/spirit/whatever, or by the offices of some representative of that being. Spontaneous remission is a way of saying that it went away on it’s own for unknown reasons. They aren’t the same at all. It’s the difference between saying “He crossed the river; swam, stole a boat, we don’t know how”, and between saying “He walked on water to cross the river, because he had Faith in the Lord.”

To be fair, birds were demonstrating this long before we had the engineering skill to achieve something similar, so the concept was never in violation of any well-reasoned scientific paradigm; just a lot of poetic but baseless philosophizing.

I don’t find Iknewit’s “spontaneous healing” links encourage me to use the word “paranormal”. Rather, they lead me to assume that medicine is not yet a complete science and there are large areas of inquiry yet unexplored (with a healthy dose of Occam’s Razoring to recognize the possibility the ailment was misdiagnosed in the first place). “Paranormal” is too often used to describe things for which explanation is not to be seriously sought, i.e. the psychic whose abilities fade if the “negative energy” of a skeptic in the room is too strong. In describing the limits of one undefined phenomenon (psychic abilities), he can only invoke another (negative energy).

Voyager, if a phenomena was found to follow “rules” and was studiable, why would it be “orthoganal to science”?

To me it is inherently obvious that Iknewit’s attempt to define anything that science has not completely explained at any particular point in time as “paranormal” is an inaccurate and meaningless definition that fails to recognize the nature of science. Sort of a “God of the Gaps” approach. By that attempted definition the paranormal of course exists because our ignorance always exists. (Funny thing about ignorance, the more you attempt to reduce it, the more you learn, the more you realize what you do not know.)

But “science” is not and has never been about having all the right answers. Science is about studying the universe and forming better models about how it works, models that make testable predictions about what will happen in the future. It is a process. And if an extraordinary claim was made, and extraordinary evidence was produced to back it up, then it would fall under the purview of science even if it claimed the existence of forces that we did not up to that point recognize existed.

The problem with those who accept the “paranormal” is that they seem willing to state that because they observe something that they feel that science does not have a current adequate explanation for, that therefore science is “wrong”, and some hokus-pokus explanation that falls beyond the realm of falsifiability must be true. Of course usually it is sufficient to show that they are wrong on the the first part, to show the scientific explanation for the observation, or the second, i.e. to falsify the hokus-pokus. But the premise is itself flawed. IMHO.

Iknewit, thanks for the handy list of dictionary defs of paranormal. The one I like best is the last one, “Not in accordance with scientific laws”. Note that it doesn’t say laws are broken, just that things don’t match up, and I think that’s important.

By some defs, anything impossible to explain is paranormal. That isn’t a definition that makes any sense to me. “I can’t think of a reason, so God (or a ghost, or demon or whatever) did it” isn’t logical. Saying “God did it” isn’t really an answer, but a cop-out and impossible to prove.

But I find your links to medical cases inappropriate. Spontaneous healing does not equate with paranormal or supernatural (unless you want to use a ridiculously broad definition). Diseases cure themselves, other forces are at work and sometimes maladies are misdiagnosed. It is for these reasons that people were often cured in the Middle Ages even though they were subjected to treatments that we now know were useless or detrimental.

Can you find a well-documented case of a missing human limb spontaneously regrowing? Now THAT might be paranormal!

Bryan Ekers: I will have to revise my statement to say “heavier-than-air HUMAN flight”.

When something new is discovered, like relativity, the new laws usually incorporate the old ones as special cases. By orthogonal I mean confirmed observations that violate still working laws. Say we find that some people can make things move with their minds. Where does the energy come from? If some source is found, no matter how odd, then it would be science. If none is found, but there are rules around the thing (like magic words) then it would be orthogonal to science.

Just consider what the kids learn in Hogwarts. Lots of rules, but orthogonal to science.

I believe the orthogonal to science vector is null, by the way.

I think we’ve coined a new term: when something is “Paranormal” but then is observed to actually take place, we can then call it “Parnormal” instead. :slight_smile:

Again the arguments seem to come down to statements like:

Exactly. There is no problem with the word or the definitions, there is a problem with your ability to comprehend the idea that some things are beyond human explanation. You are a person of faith. Faith in science and faith in religion are not the only logic in the world. In the middle, there are those who simply understand that the human mind is limited. We can’t understand everything, therefore, we have a word to denote that condition.

Another case of faith. Because you have faith in science, you do not accept that some things are beyond human understanding. There is no God of the Gaps in my argument. I don’t attribute paranormal to God in any circumstance. I simply accept that human understanding is limited. “Faith Healing” is unexplained to me because I don’t think it’s God. Also, I can find no evidence from science.

I don’t care what we call it, it happens. They claim God did it, you say it just went away and we don’t know why. The reasonable person who does not believe that God did and then finds that science syas the reasons are unknown, searches for a word to describe an actual event that we can’t explain with God or Science.
It’s funny how a couple of you have injected God here. When I simply explain that there is no explanation for things your logic is that I must believe in the omnipotent power of God if I don’t believe in the ultimate omnipotent power of science.

The question is this: Do you have faith that humans have the mental capacity to understand the nature of everything ? If you do, just remove the word paranormal from your vocabulary and rest on your faith.